At first glance, the giant asteroid Vesta wasn't much to look at. Gray and dull, the space object looked like any other asteroid pitted by craters large and small. New images re-analyzed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar Research reveals an entirely different world.
The scientists used images of the asteroid taken by the Dawn spacecraft in 2011 and 2013 and assigned colors to different wavelengths of light, teasing out new details of Vesta in the process.
Structures such as melts from impacts, craters long since buried by quakes and alien material introduced by space rocks suddenly exploded off the page where previously there had been nothing.
"The key to these images is the seven color filters of the camera system on board the spacecraft," said Andreas Nathues, the framing camera team lead at Max Planck.
In some ways, the new pictures are a more honest portrayal of the asteroid: different minerals reflect light of different wavelengths to different degrees and the new filters reflect that, unveiling compositional variations that were invisible before.
The new images are impressive not only because of the geological diversity they reveal, but the beauty their beauty, Nathues said.
"No artist could paint something like that. Only nature can do this," said Martin Hoffman, a member of the framing camera team also at Max Planck.
Unfortunately, the spacecraft that took the images is long gone, on its way to its second destination - the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The mission to Ceres overseen by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The University of California, Los Angeles is responsible for Dawn's overall mission science.
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